4 Things Not to Buy at Target
In the battle for public opinion, Target has shellacked its larger competitor, Walmart. Whether it's environmentalists attacking the very concept of big-box retail or workers' rights advocates lambasting the chain's treatment of employees, Walmart has become the poster boy for the excesses of capitalism. Target, meanwhile, has built a reputation for cheap chic, pairing with Liberty of London and Michael Graves to churn out high-design at low prices. Walmart gets blamed for putting mom and pop stores out of business, while Target recently opened its first store in Manhattan, a market Walmart has yet to crack.
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Recently, however, Target has looked vulnerable, suffering more in the economic downturn than Walmart did, and committing a rare public relations gaffe by making a political contribution that angered gay groups.
So what about the merchandise? On its carefully edited shelves, Target offers many good products at competitive prices, but it also sells products you should avoid, either because you'll get a better selection or price at another store, or because there are more environmentally sound options. Here are four items not to buy at Target.
Target's design edge in categories like clothing and housewares, where Target has exclusive deals with fashion stars such as Zac Posen, clearly doesn't extend to home furniture. "You can get comparable quality and cheaper stuff from Ikea, and Ikea's merchandise is a bit more stylish," says Kathryn Finney of The Budget Fashionista site. Finney says that, in particular, Ikea's bookshelves, chairs, and kitchen tables tend to offer better value than those at Target.
2. Movies and Music
"They can't really beat Amazon or Walmart" when it comes to prices on movies, music, and books, says James McQuivey, a media technology analyst at Forrester Research. Katy Perry's Teenage Dream CD, for example, sells for $13.99 at Target, vs. $9.99 at Amazon and $9.00 at Walmart, while the Blu-ray version of Date Night costs $29.99 at Target, vs. $24.96 at Walmart and $28.99 at Amazon.com.
3. Exercise Equipment
Target's clothes may be fashionable, but if you want to look great in them, buy your exercise equipment somewhere else. Target's offerings in this category tend toward the $199 "As Seen on TV" Ab Circle Pro and the $100 Tony Little "Gazelle Edge" fitness system. You're generally better off going to a place like The Sports Authority for higher-end exercise equipment. Or join a gym and hire a pro.
4. Shower Curtains, Some Toys, and Other Products with PVC
Following a national campaign by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) and other environmental groups, Target agreed in 2007 to reduce the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic in its products and packaging. PVC often contains lead and pthalates, which have been linked to reproductive problems in humans and release carcinogens when incinerated. At the time, Target lagged behind Walmart and Sears (Nasdaq: SHLD - News) in removing products containing PVC, says Mike Schade, CHEJ's PVC campaign coordinator. Although Target is now doing just as well as these rivals in removing PVC-containing products, it hasn't gotten rid of all of them, according to Schade.
Of particular concern are toys not sold under Target's private-label brand; Schade says it can be a challenge for retailers to control the materials that its suppliers use. (Toys sold under Target's brand should generally be PVC-free, according to Schade.) And read the labels on plastic shower curtains: Target has removed most, but not all, that contain PVC from its shelves. (Products that contain the recycling symbol with the number "3" in the middle mean they contain PVC.)
For its part, Target says it has eliminated or switched to safer forms of PVC in product categories covered by child safety legislation.
4 Things to Buy at Target
Target (NYSE: TGT - News) has long cultivated an image as a great place to buy "cheap chic" clothes and housewares designed by the likes of Zac Posen, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Michael Graves. Of course the nation's second-largest discount chain also offers the mundane staples of consumer retail -- and over the past few years, it has expanded its offerings and now stocks exclusive products in a broad range of categories. Most recently, Target added fresh groceries to the line-up.
While Target will seldom beat Walmart (NYSE: WMT - News) on price alone, its prices are still competitive; and starting this fall, holders of its store credit card will get a 5 percent discount on all purchases. Here are four categories -- other than clothes and tea kettles -- where it makes particular sense to shop at the store whose fans use a French accent to emphasize their affection for "Tar-zhay."
1. The Kindle
If you're tempted to buy the popular e-book reader from Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN - News), but want to try it out first and perhaps compare it to Barnes & Noble's Nook (NYSE: BKS - News), Target is the place to go: It's the only national brick-and-mortar retailer to carry it. The brand new Kindle 3, which is smaller and lighter than previous models, will sell for $189 at Target, the same price as at Amazon.com. "Look someone up in the store who knows how to work the device, so you can get a feel for it," suggests James McQuivey, a media technology research analyst at Forrester Research. If you've never seen someone use it, it can be a little bit tricky to figure out on your own.
2. Green Cleaning Products
When it comes to the burgeoning category of environmentally friendly cleaning and washing products, Target is tough to beat. Target was the first national retailer to carry the Method line of cleaners, which have built a cult following for their attractive packaging and all-natural ingredients, and it currently stocks more Method products (about 70) than any other big-box store. In addition, if you like niche brands of natural cleaning products such as J.R. Watkins Apothecary, Mrs. Meyer's, and Seventh Generation, you can get them at Target too -- as well as hard-to-find, green versions of mainstream products such as Tide Coldwater Free, which works with high-efficiency washing machines and is made without dyes and perfumes. "They are definitely there first before Walmart on these types of products," says Sapna Shah, a principal at research firm Retail Eye Partners.
As part of its effort to bounce back from the recession, Target is rolling out an expanded grocery section, going head to head with Walmart and Kmart, which have already beefed up their fresh-food sections. Target's new PFresh section, which sells a decent assortment of perishables such as meat, fruit, fresh produce, and baked goods, finally makes it possible to pick up the fixings for a complete meal while you are at Target shopping for other things. "It has about 70 percent of the things you would find in a full grocery store, and prices are going to be 10 to 20 percent less than at a typical grocery," says Colin McGranahan, an analyst with Bernstein Research.
In addition, kids' snacks such as granola bars and juices can be significantly cheaper at Target than at other big retailers and drugstores, and you can often save more money by registering on Target's site to have coupons delivered to your smart phone, according to Stephanie Nelson, founder of CouponMom.com.
Target's selection of cosmetics and bath and body products has traditionally lagged behind CVS (NYSE: CVS - News) and Walgreen (NYSE: WAG - News), says Jim Joseph, president of Lippe Taylor, a brand communications firm in New York City that has worked for clients whose products sell at Target. But recently the retailer has extended its cheap chic strategy to carry more designer cosmetics with quality and selections comparable to more expensive department store brands. Recent offerings in this vein include lines from Napoleon Perdis, Petra Strand, and Jemma Kidd. Target is also a good source for hard-to-find makeup brands, such as the U.K.'s Boots beauty products and Iman Cosmetics, a makeup line for women of color, says Kathryn Finney, founder of The Budget Fashionista.